The Healthiest Summertime Pesto Pasta | Vegan Oil Free
Nothing screams SUMMER quite like the taste of fresh basil. The distinct, aromatic flavor is the perfect blend of sweet, peppery, and pungent (without being overwhelming) and is the star of today’s healthy take on yet another classic dish: Pesto Pasta.
Pesto Pasta is one of those simple weeknight go-to recipes that everyone knows and loves. How much easier could it be to stir some pesto into a pot of pasta and call it “dinner”? The problem is that pesto, while flavorful, isn’t normally healthy.
Traditional pesto is a blend of basil, pinenuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt, and pepper. Creating a healthy version that’s compliant with a whole food plant-based SOS-free plan of eating is a simple matter of leaving out the cheese, oil, and salt and replacing them with a few clean ingredients. Everything else in the recipe is already clean and fortunately for this recipe, the most prominent flavor (basil) already comes from a plant!
We wanted to create a version that’s not only delicious but also health-promoting, so instead of using parmesan, we used nutritional yeast, which is a popular ingredient for replacing cheese in vegan cooking due to its nutty and savory flavor profile. We love our Well Your World Nooch because it’s an unfortified nutritional yeast. Most commercially available ones have been fortified with extra B-12, which is fine for some but we like our unfortified version because it gives us a bit more control over what’s going in our bodies. Every little bit counts!
The oil in traditional pesto may add some flavor, particularly if it’s a virgin or extra-virgin oil, but functionally it adds liquid to help break down the other ingredients to make the finished paste (or sauce in this instance) and bulk up the end result. There are many healthy, whole-food options to help create the bulking effect; we’ve used everything from white beans to cashews to replace the oil (cauliflower would probably work great as well) but since it’s summertime and our neighbors are giving us monster zucchinis from their gardens, that’s what we’re using.
We use “overt fats” (nuts, seeds, avocados, etc.) very sparingly but for this recipe, we felt the pinenuts were appropriate so we left them in. We don’t use very many in the sauce and maybe a teaspoon per portion for garnish but a little goes a long way to give the dish a little bit of richness that pesto is so well-known for; they’re completely optional and if you’re not using any overt fats, it’s perfectly fine to leave them out altogether.
The sauce itself couldn’t be easier to make; just add all the ingredients to the blender and whiz them up until velvety smooth.
We did something a little different for the pasta. First, we used chickpea pasta rather than whole wheat pasta. We love chickpea and lentil pastas because they’re gluten-free (I’m sensitive to gluten), they hold up well during cooking, and have more fiber and protein than wheat pasta. All that and they taste great too… winning!
The other twist we did was to throw some chopped onion and diced cherry tomatoes right into the boiling water in the last 1-2 minutes of the pasta cooking. Parboiling the onions and tomatoes with the pasta saved time (since we didn’t have to saute them separately and dirty another pan), infused flavor into the pasta, and added texture to the finished dish, all in one step. You can bet we’ll be doing this with more of our pasta dishes from now on!
After draining the pasta/onion/tomato, we poured the sauce on top right out of the blender, stirred it all together, and served it up. Since we’d already saved so much time, we decided to make it fancier by garnishing the top with a couple of fresh basil leaves and a few additional pinenuts.
This dish was great because it was so fast and so flavorful. It’s perfect for the middle of the week when you don’t feel like cooking but still want something that tastes like you put a lot of effort into it. We hope you’ll try it, enjoy it, and let us know what you think! Be sure to follow us on Instagram @wyw_community to keep this pesto party poppin’!!
Til Next Time! Xoxo Reebs
A healthier version of the classic pasta dish, made in no time flat.
1/2 pound whole-grain pasta
2.5 cups raw zucchini
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)
2-3 cloves garlic black pepper to taste water to desired consistency if needed
1 pint cherry tomatoes
basil & pine nuts to garnish
Cook the pasta according to package directions and rinse with cool water. Set aside or in the fridge to cool.
Add the raw zucchini, basil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, garlic, and pine nuts to the blender and blend until creamy smooth.
To assemble the dish, toss the pasta with the sauce and cherry tomatoes in a large bowl. Garnish with additional basil, black pepper, and pine nuts to serve.